The puncture wounds in Allison’s arm had been deep and ragged, but they’re gone now. The skin is smooth and unmarred, not a single trace left of the teeth that had been embedded there a few hours earlier. There had been a lot of blood then, too, and remnants of it are still smeared along her bicep, sunk into the dark fabric of her shirt too deeply to ever wash out.
Laura can smell it, sharp and metallic in the air, even under the heavy pall of Allison’s chemosignals. Between the blood and the agitation, her usual metal-shavings-and-lilac scent is all but gone. If she didn’t think she would lose a limb or two, Laura would get closer, bury her nose in Allison’s hair, dig deeper until she can find that scent again.
But she stays where she is, leaned up against the basement door, watching Allison walk frenetic circles around the cell she’s locked herself into. The moon won’t even be up for another half hour, at least, but nobody had dared to get in her way. She may not have come into her claws yet, but she still has plenty of knives and very little hesitation in using them.
Frankly, Laura is surprised Allison hasn’t tried to threaten her into leaving yet like she did everyone else. Scott held up the longest against her tirade, all too aware of how traumatizing an unwanted bite is, but even he had retreated upstairs eventually. Laura can hear him, talking quietly with Stiles and Lydia as they wait for something to happen. The others are out with Derek, running down the last of the pack that had dared to invade their territory.
Their alpha’s blood is still under Laura’s fingernails. Turns out, the betas aren’t so daring without him.
If only Laura had been just a little quicker in taking him down, she wouldn’t be here, helpless against Allison’s growing panic. Apologies sit on her tongue, but they’re worthless and she knows it. Allison wouldn’t accept them anyway. Laura swallows them down.
Instead, she says, “This isn’t the end of the world.”
Allison shoots her a look like she’s reconsidering her choice to let Laura stay. She can’t maintain it, though. Her usual laser focus is gone, replaced by impotent rage, hands grasping at air and eyes skittering restlessly along the dull stone walls. The shift hasn’t taken her, and yet she looks every bit the caged animal.
Laura knows better than to say so. She pushes off the wall and approaches the rusty bars, familiar from those handful of years as an adolescent when hormones had wreaked havoc on her control like it does for all teenage werewolves. Puberty is a bitch like that. She wraps a hand around one of them and Allison pulls back as far as she can manage.
“You shouldn’t be down here,” Allison says. “It’s not safe.”
“I’m an alpha,” Laura reminds her. “I think I can handle one newly shifted beta. I’ve made it through five so far. And those didn’t even have the benefit of a very sturdy cell.”
“Not sturdy enough.”
Laura frowns. “Ally, it’s going to be fine. Trust me, this thing has held up through decades of full moons. No werewolf has broken out of it so far, and you won’t either.”
Allison shakes her head. Fear blooms in her scent, bitter and harsh, and Laura doesn’t understand. She reaches through the bars and tries not to be hurt when Allison flinches away from it. They’ve been growing closer lately, yes, but just because they’ve been moving toward being something doesn’t mean anything in the face of what Allison is going through. This isn’t the time for ego or hurt feelings. Laura just wants to be here for someone she cares about.
“You were there for Isaac’s transition,” she says. “And Erica’s, and Boyd’s. There were some rough patches, but you saw them all come out the other side just fine. Even Scott made it through his messy bite. And I didn’t let any of them hurt anyone, did I?”
Laura keeps her voice low and steady, trying to exude the sort of calming, reassuring energy that her mother always had. It doesn’t seem to be working very well; Allison isn’t relaxing a bit. Her jaw is clenched so tight Laura’s surprised she hasn’t cracked a tooth yet, fists white-knuckled and shoulders taut as her bowstring. Her eyes are wide and glassy, though she’s stubborn enough not to let any tears fall.
Her voice is choked with them anyway when she says, “But what if I’m not like them?”
Laura grips the cell bars again because the alternative is breaking the lock off the door and pulling Allison into her arms, danger be damned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Allison smiles and it’s the bleakest expression Laura’s ever seen on her face.
“I’m not like Scott,” she says with a weak shrug. “I mean, nobody’s like Scott, but I’m— You know how I am, Laura. What I’m capable of. Where I come from.”
Laura shakes her head. “What does that have to do with anything?”
But Allison isn’t listening to her. She’s scrubbing her hands over her face, fingers sliding up to tangle in her hair. Her breath comes faster, sharp on the inhale and stuttering back out.
“I’m not like them, Laura, I’m like—” Allison lets out a bark of laughter, dancing on the edge of hysteria, and throws out her arms. “Maybe mom had the right idea!”
The bars creak under the sudden pressure of Laura’s fingers. “Allison, don’t even joke about that.”
“Who’s joking? Jesus, Laura, you saw what Kate turned into!”
The cell has withstood generations of moon-crazed werewolves, but it doesn’t withstand Laura. With one swift yank, she tears the padlock from its mooring and tosses it aside. She’s inside before Allison can protest—not that that stops Allison from trying—and ignores the panicked flail of Allison’s hands to step in close.
It’s instinct for Laura to grip the nape of Allison’s neck, just firmly enough to hold her in place. All at once, Allison stops fighting to push her away. It’s not a restful stillness, more like prey in a predator’s sights, frozen and quivering. A beta awaiting her alpha’s judgment.
“What I saw back then,” Laura says, slow and deliberate, “was a monster. Before and after the scratch that turned her. But Allison, you’re not Kate.”
Up this close, the scent of fear overpowers everything. It’s seeping from every pore, clinging to Allison’s skin like the wetness that clings to her eyelashes. Allison’s fingers latch onto Laura’s arms and dig in, hard enough to leave bruises that will fade before she lets go.
“I could be.” Her voice cracks. “I wanted to be, as a kid. I wanted so badly to be like her. And I was, Laura, you know I was. I let her and Gerard get into my head and then I was just like her, and it would be so easy for me to—”
Laura cuts her off before she can say anything else patently stupid. “That’s not going to happen, Ally. I know it isn’t. Do you know why?” She squeezes Allison’s neck until brown eyes meet hers. “Because the shape we take reflects the person that we are.”
Allison’s lip quivers, but she doesn’t blink. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Then, Ally—” Laura smiles. “—you don’t know yourself like I know you.”
The cell has no windows, but it doesn’t keep out the full force of the rising moon. Its power creeps up on them like the zing of static electricity, the weight of atmospheric pressure. It’s a feeling Laura knows as well as her own heartbeat, almost familiar enough to be comforting in its enormity.
She sees it the moment that feeling hits Allison in full. It’s a gasp and a full-body jolt. It’s bracing for impact. It’s newly claw-tipped fingers digging deeper into Laura’s shoulders like Laura is the only steady thing in a world knocked off its axis.
Laura holds her through it. There’s no screaming and blood, no burst of uncontrollable rage, no ripple of blue spotted nagual fur. In the end, there’s only brown eyes turned luminescent gold. Laura’s own flash red in answer and a new thread settles in her chest, warm and strong alongside all the other pack bonds she harbors there.
This time, Allison doesn’t protest when Laura shifts closer. She leans into Laura’s cool hands against her cheeks, glowing eyes fluttering closed, and sighs at the kiss Laura presses to her forehead. The fear is beginning to dissipate from her scent now, replaced bit by bit with the sweetness of relief.
“See?” Laura whispers between them. “I knew it.”
Allison kisses the words out of her mouth and the full moon is forgotten entirely.